Six months ago I wrote a totally failed piece about fruit and sex, a kind of meditation on the sensuous qualities of oranges, mangoes, pomegranates, etc.
It was fun to write because it gave me permission to use words that weaken the knees: juice, skin, pulp, flesh, pluck, lick, suck. A terrible essay, I realize now–embarassingly bad, written to please only the writer–but it remains a fairly accurate portrait of how I feel about fruit.
Fruit in general and figs particularly. When I was writing the bad fruit essay I decided that figs are the sexiest fruit to eat. It’s in the grotesqueness of their appearance: the bruised purple skin, the pink flesh, the green stems leaking punishing white sap. Then you taste it: the yielding texture, the almost aggressive sweetness, a subtle savor of dirt and earth, reminding you where it comes from, all of it.
Figs are powerful. I have to sit down to eat them. Because they rewire my senses entirely; they remind me who I have been, and where I came from, and what it felt like, and they tempt me home. Places have a feel, a taste, a sound, a smell. You know what I mean. California is my home and it tastes like figs. When figs show up in Chicago–smaller and sadder and fewer and more bruised than the ones I remember–I miss it all terribly.
But these figs were no less sweet than the ones from home. They were only less perfect, and I picked them out of a pile instead of off a tree.
I’ve never felt compelled to make something with figs before. It was always enough to eat them plain and unwashed out of a filled-to-capacity brown grocery bag. When you have a fig tree in the family, there’s a real sense of urgency about eating them right away: a race to the bottom, a race against rot. Not unlike living, I realize. But having no glut of figs this summer, I wanted to do something special. To, you know, make it last a little longer.
The weather’s still sweltering, so I made a salad. I loved this salad. To list ingredients recommends it enough: figs, watercress, endive, prosciutto, manchego cheese, roasted almonds. All delightful things, all of them a treat on their own, but a totally over-the-top luxury when you bring them together with a light vinaigrette and a fruity balsamic reduction. “Only goodies in this salad,” Bill said. “You should call it that. The nothing-but-goodies-salad.” A salad to love, built around a fruit that weakens the knees.
Fig (Nothing-But-Goodies) Salad
– 5-6 small figs, any variety, halved or quartered
– 1 bunch watercress, stems removed
– 2 heads endive, leaves separated
– 2-3 oz manchego cheese, shaved
– 6 slices prosciutto
– 1 large handful unsalted roasted almonds
– 1 cup balsamic vinegar
– 1/2 tsp sugar
– 3 tbsp white wine vinegar
– 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
– Kosher salt and black pepper
Wash greens and dry thoroughly. Make reduction: heat balsamic vinegar and sugar in a small saucepan uncovered over low heat, about 5-6 minutes. Meanwhile, whisk together white wine vinegar, oil, salt and pepper in a small bowl. When balsamic vinegar reduces in volume by 75%, remove it from heat. It should coat the back of a spoon. Allow it to cool for 2-3 minutes while you prep the salad ingredients.
Assemble the salad: toss watercress and endive with the white wine vinaigrette, and split the greens between two plates. Distribute figs, cheese, almonds and prosciutto evenly between plates. Season with salt and pepper. Drizzle with balsamic reduction, 1/2-1 tsp per salad, or to taste. I served this salad with oysters and white wine. It was a perfect summer dinner.